Caravana Matopiba uncovers alarming human and environmental costs of agribusiness

During its visits, the delegation observed high levels of agrochemical pollution, diminishing natural resources, land grabbing, as well as significant impact on the health of traditional communities, resulting from expanding soy plantations.

The delegation, comprised of 30 human rights, development and rural experts, corroborated the widespread environmental devastation that land grabs and expanding soy monocultures leave in their wake. Also referred to as Caravana Matopiba, the international fact-finding mission that visited the region in northeastern Brazil between 6–10 September, points to striking human costs for communities living in the area.

Testimonies recorded by the delegation in the communities of Melancias, Baixão Fechado, Sete Lagoas, Brejo das Meninas, Santa Fé all tell similar stories. The villagers suffer from diminishing water resources as a result of deforestation and high levels of agrochemical pollution causing serious health issues. This is triggered by the invasion of their traditional lands by land grabbers (locally known as ‘grilheiros’), who cut down the natural vegetation and falsify land titles to re-sell the land to agribusiness. In all visits, which took place in the south of Piaui, the team found clear indications that the environmental degradation is putting the right to food, water and health of communities at great risk.

Testimonies from the ground

Mr. Juarez, leader of the Melancias community, told the observers that pesticides used on the plantations flow directly into the river during the rainy season. This makes it impossible for them to use the water, as doing so would lead to a wide range of health problems, including nausea, vertigo and skin irritation. By the same token, planes hover over plantations dropping pesticides, which are also blown over the community. Female community members pointed out that the lower groundwater levels that result from the plantations, lead to the worsening of local harvests such as that of the Buriti palm.

The presence of large-scale farmers, land grabbers, scouts and militias can be felt throughout the region. Community members are constantly intimidated and forced to leave their land, with some of them selling for a very low price. A high number of local families end up moving to the favelas of big cities where they are bound to live at the margins of society. On this note, the delegation came across the case of the community of Sete Lagoas, which recently reported 10 cases of intimidation against neighbouring company Dahma, which arranges the ‘security’ for the grilheiros. Despite a court order ruling in favour of the villagers, the threats continue.

The State of Brazil remains absent

The delegation ascertained a clear absence of the State in the communities. The State of Brazil fails to guarantee and protect the land and territorial rights and to ensure the application of public policies in the communities. Commenting on the visit, FIAN International’s Senior Advisor Flavio Valente, said: “The Brazilian state has not only been totally absent in protecting traditional communities against the plundering by land grabbers, but also criminal with the promotion of agro-industrial business in the area. This has led to a wave of unacceptable violence against the people with total impunity.”

Agribusiness companies operating in the area receive funding from pension funds based in the US, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany. The delegation recalls that these States must fulfil their extraterritorial obligations by ensuring activities of pension funds are not involved in human rights abuses and violations as well as the destruction of the environment in the region.

Public hearings and press conference

The testimonies by the communities, as well as observations and recommendations by the delegation will be the subject of public hearings in Bom Jesus, Teresina and Brasilia. A press conference for national and international media will follow on September 14 in Memorial da Procuradoria Geral da República (St. de Administração Federal Sul – Zona Cívico-Administrativa, Brasília/DF).

A preliminary report with recommendations will be shared with the Brazilian authorities, followed by a final report by the end of 2017.

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NOTES TO EDITORS:
The fact finding mission, organized by FIAN International and Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos, FIAN Brazil and Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT) Piauí, counts with the participation of: Action Aid International and Brazil, Aidenvironment; Cáritas Regional do Piauí; CPT Nacional; Escola de Formação Paulo de Tarso (EFPT – PI); Federação dos Agricultores Familiares (FAF); Federação dos Trabalhadores Rurais na Agricultura (FETAG-PI); GRAIN;HEKS/EPER International Institute of Social Studies; La Via Campesina International and CLOC- La Via Campesina, Maryknoll, Paróquia de Santa Filomena, Instituto Comradio do Brasil; Sindicato dos Trabalhadores Rurais de Santa Filomena; Vara e Procuradoria Agrária – PI, PROGEIA (Santa Filomena), as well as FIAN International’s sections in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Photo: Villager holding two bottles, including one with polluted waters, Rosilene Miliotti /FASE.